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Monday, June 29, 2015


5 stars out of 5

Refusing to watch a movie or TV series that's based on a book before I've read the book is a rule I've broken only a couple of times in my life, with this instance being the second that I can recall. My husband and I were faithful fans of the "Longmire" show that premiered in June 2012 (it starred Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips and ran for three seasons before being canceled, much to our dismay). 

And although ignorance of the law is no defense, I will say only that at no time did I realize that the TV shows were based on books. I came to that realization not long ago, and because I'm always looking for a solid series to read when nothing else is grabbing my attention, I decided to give this one a try starting with the first (another almost inviolable rule).

The book introduces Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming (interestingly, the cover art on the most recent release is of Taylor, the very capable actor who portrayed Longmire in the TV show). The sheriff's wife died a few years earlier, his daughter is off somewhere being a lawyer, and his best friend is Henry - the character played (equally capably) by Phillips. His staff, which includes deputy Victoria Moretti ("Vic"), whose marriage is at best shaky and who has a vocabulary that can best any truck driver I've ever known.

Walt has been sheriff for 25 years, and he's hoping to retire and turn the office reins over to Vic. But then, the body of Cody Pritchard is found near the Northern Cheyenne Reservation; a couple of years earlier, Pritchard and three other high school boys raped a mentally challenged Cheyenne girl and ended up with suspended sentences. At first, the death appears to be accidental; but then, another of the boys turns up dead. Could it be that someone is seeking revenge? And if so, who? After all, the suspended sentence angered quite a few people, including Walt's long-time friend Henry.

If it were simply a matter of solving the crimes, the book wouldn't need nearly as many pages. But there's much, much more here, including descriptions of the remote surroundings and in-depth looks at the characters and their backgrounds. Every once in a while there's a chuckle, as when I came across this line spoken by Walt:

"I had been raised a Methodist where the highest sacrament was the bake sale."

As was I, Walt (only in my church's case, it was the rummage sale). I also could relate to his list of vehicles to forever despise that includes the 1950 yellow Studebaker on which he learned to drive. Actually, I learned on a '57 Chevy Bel Air (stick shift on the steering wheel), but my dad bought a maroon Studebaker close to the same vintage for me to drive from our farm to school my senior year. The car didn't smell much better than the school bus I rode for so many years, but it sure was less crowded.  

In any event, the story winds through the wilds of Wyoming with a few twists and turns as to who the culprit might be (I confess to suspecting who about halfway through, though, and turns out I was right). The writing is amazingly good (and for the record, I also was amazed at how spot-on the TV adaptation was). For those who enjoy plain old Westerns (think: William Kent Kruger and C.J. Box) and getting to know the characters inside out, this series is a don't-miss. The rest are on my to-read list for sure!

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (Penguin Books Reprint, May 2012); 400 pp.

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